Don’t believe the hype; the truth about millennials

About Chris Moriarty

Chris is Managing Director at Leesman. Chris is responsible for the creative and strategic development of the Leesman brand in the UK and internationally and for exploring opportunities to develop the Leesman product. He is passionate about workplace and very excited about the opportunities to help organisations understand the link between people and place with the Leesman survey.


‘Listerine’, a brand known around the world. But how many of us are aware of the fact that in its early days it was used for a whole host of things, such as surgical antiseptic, foot washing and even floor scrubbing. Today though, it is recognised as one of the leading mouthwash products on the planet; and the story behind that success is something that has found itself becoming marketing folklore.

In the late 1800s the team at Listerine were targeting the dental industry because of the many benefits their antiseptic formula had for oral health care. Yet despite the benefits, the product had limited traction, forcing the team to devise a new marketing strategy. As a result, they created ‘halitosis’. Now, to be clear, they didn’t invent bad breath but they did coin the term ‘halitosis’ (which comes from the Latin for ‘breath’, halitus, and osis, which translates to ‘condition’). From then on they were able to create a marketing strategy which focused on the negative social impact of having halitosis and consequently how their product, Listerine, was the solution. The rest, is history.

So, why am I talking about mouthwash in a workplace blog post? Well, I’m concerned we’re seeing a similar situation, where people are suggesting a problem to help sell the solution, especially when we talk about millennials in the workplace. I’m sure we’ve all seen the countless marketing messages about how millennials are changing the workplace. Headlines such as ‘Is your workspace ready for millennials?’ suggests there is a revolution coming and your boring, traditional workplaces are going to be cast aside as this generation of trendy young employees are coming in with their new ways of working and new-fangled ideas. And to be quite frank, I’m not buying it.

I am not, however, rejecting the idea that different generations have unique characteristics; the social/economic climate you spend your formative years in has a huge bearing on your approach to life. But are they radically changing the world of work? Do they really hate the space they’ve been provided? The simple answer is no. And I say that with confidence, having the evidence of the world’s largest database on workplace effectiveness supporting my claims. For seven years now Leesman has been assessing the suitability of workplaces to support their employees, and guess what… those under the age of 34 have the highest scores in the 270,000+ responses worldwide we’ve received to date.

How can that be? We’re constantly told they’re completely different to the generations that came before… right? Again, the data in the Index helps us understand this. Here are some key points:

Activity complexity

Our research consistently reveals that what impacts workplace effectiveness more than anything is the complexity of an employee’s activity profile. We ask people to select the activities important to them, from a list of 21, before they then tell us whether they are well supported in the workplace. Part of the insight we gain from this is the number of activities an individual selections. The more they select, the more complex their profile, the more difficult it is to support and therefore we see the effectiveness scores drop.

When we look at the various age ranges in our Index it shows us that those in the under 25 and the 25-34 age bracket have the least complex profiles with 70% and 60%, respectively, of respondents selecting less than ten activities. Comparatively, the older age brackets sit at around 50% selecting less than 10.

Dispelling myths

This totally makes sense; these people are at the start of their careers so realistically we can expect them to have a slightly narrower scope of work. So its unsurprising that this group feel more supported by the average office, compared to those later in there career who have more complex profiles and therefore higher demands on alternative space.

When reviewing the percentage of people that select a particular activity as important, the under 25s only top the list on two activities: relaxing and taking a break and learning from others. They are also most likely to select personal storage, ability to personalise my workstation and restaurant/canteen as important features and least (yes least) likely to select wifi network, computing equipment (mobile) and remote access to work networks.

Doesn’t quite sound like the agile, entrepreneurial, tech junkies we’ve been told to prepare for.

Again, this comes down to the type of work they are tasked with in organisations. My first role was in a call centre; answer the phone, responding to emails and opening the post. That was it and the desk I had was perfect for that. The problems came when I became a team leader and had to do one-to-one meetings, project plans and budgets. The same desk now had to support that, along with all the distractions around me.

What is the actual challenge?

When you look at one of our key performance indicator questions: Do you agree/disagree that the design of your workplace enables you to work productively? You begin to see where the real challenge facing workplace professionals lies. The nearly 70% of under 25s agree with this, the rest fall below 60%. So with all the hype around millennials we’re in danger of forgetting those from the generations before and that has nothing to do with which generational label we attached to them and everything to do with their career stage.

Are we ready for the employee of the future? Currently, we’re not even providing the correct support to those in the workplace today!